Developed in the 1960s and played by the delightfully weird Willard Scott, Ronald McDonald—the character—began as a typical silly clown, a marketing scheme that few expected to stick around, much less morph into the ketchup-and-mustard-colored smiling spokesperson he is fifty years later.
As you can see, the mascot probably turned off a good number of potential customers who suffer from coulrophobia, especially at stores where a life-size replica of the guy sits like an embalmed stiff on a bench outside. Regardless, the argument from the dissenters insists that McDonald's unfairly uses the clown to market to children, who then drive themselves to the restaurant every morning for Egg McMuffins and will eat lunch there 4-5 times per week.
We've seen explorations of McDonald's nutrition in documentaries like Super Size Me, making convincing arguments about how the chain has used its strategically-placed playgrounds in rural areas that lack a public playground to act as a whining double-whammy against even those parents who are excellent at ignoring their child's unreasonable demands. Also, they give away toys with their food. A parent just can't compete.
But actually, those playgrounds kind of act as a public service, bringing a fun play area to a region that may not be fortunate enough to afford one, and supplying plastic food at the same time. It's two birds with one stone for many parents. In fact, it's actually a lot better than McDonald's supplying a bunch of couches with video games, right? After downing 900 calories worth of food, that kid's gotta burn off something.
I'm actually pretty certain that the clown, the playgrounds, and the toys are not the cause of childhood obesity, but combined with the endorphin-releasing plastic food that kids crave, the whole package becomes a whine-inducer so strong, so powerful, that parents will repeatedly take their kids there despite the obvious health concerns.
McDonald's takes a different approach. Rather than putting the rightful blame on parents for letting their children's weight get out of control, they continue to insist that their food is perfectly healthy in moderation, and even go as far as to say that its food is "high quality."
Ask a little kid: Which part of McDonald's do you like most? Is it:
- The endorphin-releasing plastic food
- The toys included with the plastic food
- The playground
- The fact that mom takes you there every time you cry
- Or the beef-loving clown?
- Percentage of children that go to McDonald’s at least once a month: 85%
- Percentage of children who are obese: 33%
- Percentage of children with crippling clown fear: 15%
Actual figures retrieved from semi-reputable sources
Well, that's alarming. Imagine if we removed the clown element altogether. That obesity rate would skyrocket!
McDonald's is not going to drop their biggest marketing device. Ronald McDonald is one of the most recognized characters of all time, and is identifiable in nearly every country in the world, as the Thai Ronald McDonald statue shown above proves. Dropping him would be one of the stupidest moves in marketing history. It might be different if he was dressed up in blackface, but he's not. He's just a clown. Follow @torqtorq